What, you hit rock? OK, open trench away!

As we come down to the wire on a FERC decision on PennEast, I have been monitoring the FERC dockets daily.  Not just the PennEast one, but all the dockets, to have a better sense of what to come.

As you can imagine, the result is pretty awful.  The pain and suffering of pipeline proposals does not end with a FERC approval.  Or other permits and approvals, or even the start of construction.  Nope.  It often keeps on going well into the project construction.

Here’s one example of many.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the horrors of Leidy Southeast expansion, where the Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) attempt went into overdrive as they hit hard rock.  They were drilling constantly.  Broke a few drill bits.  Then they gave up and switched over to open trench.

Perhaps a few of you thought “oh, well, maybe this was an exceptional situation” and is a rare event.

As it turns out, it’s not.  It happens with depressing regularity.  Here’s the same drama happening in near real-time today with a Dominion Energy Project called the “TRANSCO TO CHARLESTON PROJECT” (I’ll call it T to CP).

T to CP is a project involving 55 miles of 12″ pipe that they’re running in South Carolina.  They’ve been given all approvals and have been in construction for awhile now.  The project involves quite a bit of HDD work.

On November 8th of this year, they filed a request to FERC (link here: https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=14752375):

Re: Variance Request for 24-hour Drilling Operations on HDD-021

DECG hereby requests written authorization from the Director of the Office of Energy Projects (OEP) to perform 24-hour drilling operations on HDD-021, HDD of Watkins and Mudlick Creeks, totaling 2,390’ in length. The drilling operations of HDD-021 have encountered hard rock, drastically slowing production down, requiring additional shifts in order to complete the drill by the landowner’s stipulated date of November 15th;

Here Dominion is saying “Hey, our HDD attempt hit hard rock and it’s slowing us down.  Let us drill 24 hours a day to keep our schedule!”.  Yes, 24 hours a day.  Through hard rock.

A day later the request was granted by FERC.  Not the commissioners, but just a regular staffer.

Five days later, Dominion filed another request with FERC (link here: https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=14756303):

Re: Variance Request for Modification to Construction Method

DECG hereby requests written authorization from the Director of the Office of Energy Projects (OEP) to modify the construction method from horizontal directional drill (HDD), for HDD-03 and HDD-04, to a combination of conventional bore and conventional open-cut. DECG has encountered solid rock on nearly all HDDs throughout this Project, drastically slowing production down, and proposes to modify the construction method with the intention to avoid further construction delays and complete the Project by the customer’s scheduled in-service date.

So Dominion is saying “Oh hey, we’re hitting this hard rock everywhere and it’s a real pain in our ass.  Request permission to chuck the whole idea and switch to boring and open trenching instead.

FERC said “sure” two days later, November 16th (link:https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=14758473):

Re: Variance Request for Modification to Construction Method

 I grant Dominion Energy Carolina Gas Transmission, LLC’s (Dominion) November 14, 2017 request to modify the construction method from horizontal directional drill (HDD) for HDD-03 and HDD-04, to a combination of conventional bore and conventional open-cut, along the Moore to Chappells Pipeline for the Transco to Charleston Project. Dominion has encountered solid rock in these locations. With this construction method modification, Dominion intends to avoid further construction delays and complete the project by the customer’s scheduled in-service date.

This variance will require an additional impact on 1.16 acres forested land, 0.78 acre silviculture (planted pine) land, 0.09 acre open land, and 0.83 acre agricultural (cropland, pasture, hay) land from open cutting the upland right-of-way. In addition, trees within 15 feet of the pipeline centerline would be selectively cut at ground level from the permanent right-of-way

This approval was made by a mere Project Manager within FERC.  Not a commissioner, a project manager.

Meanwhile, the original Environmental Assessment (EA) of the project is available here (https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=14379602).  The EA of course says that the project can be built with no permanent damage to the environment.  The assessment states that areas where there is “no change in land use” were not considered as in land use requirements and impacts – which included HDD sites.  When discussing things like wetlands impacts, the EA has this to say:

Impacts and Mitigation

The wetland crossing methods proposed for the Project include HDD and horizontal boring methodologies, and are described in detail in section A.7.2 and presented in appendix F. Construction activity in wetlands crossed by the HDD method would be limited to hand clearing of a small path to allow placement and surveying of an electric guide wire along the ground surface between the HDD entry and exit points, where necessary. Conventional bore methods would not require surface activity. The permanent right-of-way through forested wetlands would not require tree clearing per USDOT standards (49 CFR 192) because of the proposed depth of the pipeline. As such, no construction or operational- related impacts on wetlands are anticipated.

In this area, as well as others, FERC is stating that HDD methods are helping to mitigate impacts, and because of this the project is environmental acceptable.

But then they allow the project to arbitrarily switch from HDD if it is inconvenient to their schedule, which completely nullifies the HDD mitigation statements in the EA!

There are many other HDD adventures on this project, I’ve just highlighted a few.  The point is that FERC-generated Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements are pure, unadulterated bull shit.  They are completely arbitrary and the construction rules can be changed at will by FERC, meaning that the whole exercise is a pointless one just to file a lot of paper.

This pattern is repeated across nearly ever FERC pipeline docket.  FERC prepares a completely B.S. EIS or EA.  Allows construction.  And then if they pipeline company runs into difficulty, they let them change the construction methods and effectively violate the EIS/EA with no penalties at all.

Needless to say, all the people along the many HDD routes for the PennEast pipeline route should take note of this, and in particular should fight hard in eminent domain proceedings to not allow FERC to grant these variances on their land.


Published by

Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and three cats Ponce de Leon, Oliver, and Doolittle.

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